In brief: Finding Freedom in the Lost Kitchen, Bear and A Hundred Million Years and a Day

Finding Freedom in the Lost Kitchen
Erin French
Aurum Press, £16.99, pp304

Growing up, Erin French’s hometown of Freedom, Maine, was the kind of place you passed through on your way to somewhere bigger. She had her sights set on escape, but returned to work in the kitchen of her father’s diner after becoming pregnant a year into her medicine degree. Cooking would prove to be her salvation, ultimately leading to a restaurant of her own that’s put Freedom on the foodie map – but not before she’d weathered a toxic marriage, a prescription-pill addiction and a long battle to regain custody of her son. It’s all detailed in her memoir, a determined, engaging foray into narrative nonfiction whose grit is balanced by homely, transporting delights, such as fried chicken and vanilla ice-cream cones.

Marian Engel
Daunt Books, £9.99, pp176

Back in the 1970s, Canadian novelist Marian Engel’s Bear was hailed as a feminist classic in the making. Freshly reissued, its shrewd insights into female desire feel no less relevant, while its appreciation of the pleasures – and perils – of solitude, and of the vast consolations of nature, seem only more compelling. Its heroine, Lou, is a young archivist. She lives “like a mole, buried deep in her office”, her loneliness barely relieved by tepid sex with her boss. Everything changes with a summer posting to an island estate, whose library she’s to catalogue. There, she finds a bear. She eats with the bear, swims with the bear, and – well, does rather more besides with him. This droll, sensual tale is as strange and powerful as myth.

A Hundred Million Years and a Day
Jean-Baptiste Andrea (translated by Sam Taylor)
Gallic Books, £8.99, pp176

Aged six, Stan discovered his first fossil: a trilobite, 300m years old. The thrill propels him into a career as a palaeontology professor. Decades later, when he learns of a huge dinosaur fossil supposedly trapped in an Alpine glacier, that same feeling – and a good deal of hubris – steels him to embark on a dicey quest to claim it. Three other men join him on the journey, and with winter nearing and conditions toughening, Stan finds himself retreating into his personal past. It’s a tense exploration of obsession and camaraderie, made more arresting still by the contrast between its slender form and the epic nature of its backdrop.